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Smartphone-Based Digital Phenotyping Will Be The Future of Psychiatry to Treat Mental Illnesses
2017-07-28 18:10:02
KC Jones

Photo by: Tero Vesalainen via Pixabay/ Man holding his smart phone

In a research study released by Igor Pantic, MD, Ph.D.entitled Online Social Networking and Mental Health, he cites a 1998 psychological study concerning the effects of internet usage on our real-life social relationships:

“In this research, the authors found that increased time spent online is related to a decline in communication with family members, as well as the reduction of the Internet user's social circle, which may further lead to increased feelings of depression and loneliness,” he says.

Note that Pantic cited a study long before there were Facebook and Twitter which was entirely based on internet surfing alone.

Mental health awareness and advocacies have been rampant these past few years, especially through social media posts.

Most notably on Twitter where threads after threads of tweets were tweeted to increase awareness towards mental health and its unseen effects.

Seen in this light, however, raising mental health awareness through social media is a tough job because it risks the noise of nanosecond updates that come from different users worldwide.

From another perspective, it can also be considered that it is somehow counterproductive since some studies show that frequent use of social networking sites has become a symptom of depression.

Exposure to social networking sites at an early age is now a staple in the younger generations.Hence, the risk that involves the diminishing real-life social interactions is heightened.

Online or virtual personas are developing at an early age and this causes a form of depersonalization whereas a person sees himself/herself objectively.Pantic discussed this in his study as “objective self-awareness theory” which tackles how the self becomes the object of the consciousness that can possibly lead to “a diminished impression of the self.”

These effects that lead to self-scrutiny as one becomes detached to one’s selfhood becomes the prime factor that feeds mental illnesses.

Anxiety is being reinforced through social media notifications that further one’s detachment not only to one’s self but also towards his surroundings.

Push notifications distract us from what is happening outside our body reducing the number of social interactions that our minds require to be stimulated.

Being addicted to the pleasure brought by the instant gratification of social media denies us of social connectivity making us feel more alone.

Psychiatric treatments are now pushing its studies towards prevention and treatment of mental illness by integrating smartphone technology.

A vision to create apps that can regulate a person’s mental health is underway.

Jukka-Pekka Onnela, from the Department of Biostatistics at Harvard University and Scott Rauch, from the Department of Psychiatry in Harvard Medical School, published a study last year on Neuropsychopharmacology, an online journal on behavioral sciences, talks about the possibility of technological leverage that can aid the treatment of mental illnesses through data raw data gathering.

Smartphone-based digital phenotyping is the current developing technology that is based on a person’s data’s use of his smartphone.

This innovation can be considered as a panoptic-based treatment as it monitors a person’s smartphone activity.

For this reason, psychiatrists can monitor the amount of time a person surfs the internet, visit social media, the number of calls made, and even going as far as tracking one’s GPS data through their smartphones.

To further expand, take the accumulation of a person’s GPS data and correlate it with how much time a depressed person divides his time on different locations.Speech samples that are collected and recorded based on phone conversations can be used to analyze a person’s tone to identify a particular mood that might signal a depressive state.

This proposal is a real-time based data accumulation from the patients in order to be able to study the patients remotely.

Apart from the traditional conversational therapy, the psychiatrist will be able to determine the status of the patient since conversational therapy relies on passive data that is being told by the patient.

Smartphone-based digital phenotyping is somehow, a mix of active and passive raw data that tells more about the condition of the patient even in isolation.

According to their study, “Digital phenotyping could enable such predictions and alert the patients themselves, a designated loved one, or a professional caregiver.

Such predictive identification could ultimately enable timely and effective intervention.”

Since it feeds on real-time raw data, it is possible for immediate interpretation that is almost like a 24/7 therapy such that, “the data generated by this method represent a striking parallel to the mental status exam, with arguably superior objective indices of speech, motor activity, mood, affect, thought, and cognition,” the researchers added.

And so, perhaps the reason that raising awareness about mental illness itself through social media is not that bad at all.

As much as its use contributes to the factors involving the decline of mental health, current trends in psychiatry and technology are starting to make their move towards the treatment of a sickness that plagues the young generation.

The promise of research and innovation are on its way to provide aid to those who are suffering to these kinds of disorders.


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